IntheFlow – Interview with Bruce Whitfield on 702 [Podcast]

Jack Hammer CEO, Debbie Goodman-Bhyat recently spoke to 702’s Bruce Whitfield on the Money Show, discussing her newly-published book InTheFlow: Taking Mindfulness to Work. Click on the sound bar to hear more.

Bruce: Tonight’s book is a local book InTheFlow: Taking Mindfulness to Work by Debbie Goodman Bhyat who, by day, is the founder and CEO of Jack Hammer. She’s a talent head-hunter.

Is there a growing trend, Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, in the world of people who have made it; people like yourself, people like Arianna Huffington, who, once you’ve made it, tell others they really don’t have to work so hard?

Debbie: First of all, I don’t think I’ve made it and thank you for the connection with Arianna Huffington – that’s extremely flattering. I’ve been writing this book for the three and a half, four years. It was spurred by my own journey into mindfulness, which came after a really tough phase in my life of just feeling so completely hectic and overwhelmed.

Bruce: What was it? As your doppelganger Arianna had been passed out in the bathroom cracked her head, broke her cheek bone and woke up in a pool of blood. When she came around, she realized she hadn’t been shot so everything would be fine but that was her epiphany. Did you have an epiphany?

Debbie: Nothing quite as dramatic as that, in terms of the injury, but I got to the end of 2012 and felt completely wiped out. I hadn’t realised how much I’d been struggling with just the hecticness of life. Trying to be a good mom, a good wife and trying to run a successful business and just trying with these endless to-do lists and constantly chasing towards end destinations and goals. And then arriving there and wondering to myself “okay, what on earth is this all about?” Because I hadn’t even noticed the journey nor enjoyed it. So I realized at that point that something needed to change and the thing about life is that it’s really difficult to change all the moving parts; those moving parts were likely to stay in my life, my family, my business and all the other things I like to do and want to do. And the thing that really needed to shift was me and that is really the big deal on how you make those personal shifts.

Bruce: Explain to me the concept of mindfulness in 30 seconds or less because I think it means a lot of different things to different people but, broadly, when you talk about mindfulness, what is it?

Debbie: My interpretation as a non-expert, non-guru, non-clinician, mindfulness is about bringing your awareness to the present and being able to focus on the here and now.

Bruce: In English, that translates as?

Debbie: That translates to being able to take notice of what’s actually going in your life as it happens, as opposed to just being on autopilot, motoring through the day, getting to the end of it and not really remembering the small ordinary moments that actually took place. So you will reach the end of the day, week, month and look back and somebody will ask you “so how are things?” and you will say “ag surviving, kind of okay” or you will respond with “hectic” or “exhausted” and I think that is the response we get these days from most people. I was there and I eventually started to learn how to stop and take notice and when you say “be present”, I know that is a difficult term because I struggled with it for the longest of times like “what on earth do you mean?! Please speak to me in English”. So I started to find a way through the system that I designed, which is InTheFlow – a set of prompts that would help me in a very practical way when I wasn’t meditating or doing deep breathing exercises, in a very sort of ordinary way which helped me to stop and just appreciate the wonderful life that I do have.

Bruce: People talk about don’t sweat the small stuff, and you’re not sweating the small stuff – you are noticing the small stuff, the small stuff that is irritating and admin and dull and boring that has to be done but there is small stuff that is actually value-enhancing in our lives that we sometimes ignore.

Debbie: I think the thing is that a lot of us in this day and age, we’re expecting that a great life is marked by great wonderful celebratory things that we expect and hope will be happening and the reality of life is it’s just not like that. We have days where there are just ordinary regular things going on and its very tempting to just march past and not even notice and I think the important thing about not sweating the small stuff is a lovely phrase to use but, for me, the important thing is did you notice the small ordinary thing that happened yesterday when your child gave you a hug or when your work colleague brought you a coffee? And there are just a hundred moments just like that. The thing is, that the moment you actually shine a spotlight by just focusing your attention on things that actually are quite small and ordinary, they become special.

Bruce: People talk about gratitude and maybe the 21st century is characterised, broadly speaking, by a lack of gratitude. We kind of expect that if we work hard we will be rewarded well that we will reap the rewards of everything we’ve put in and we’re not grateful for awesome things that do happen.

Debbie: I think gratitude is, once again, quite a fashionable idea to be writing a gratitude journal and we are kind of psyched into the idea that we should feel grateful for all the privilege that we have and, yes, we should. I think people are a little tired of it and having to feel so grateful for everything that’s happening or not happening. There is a bit of gratitude mentioned in InTheFlow – for me, it’s not necessarily the roof over our heads or the food we have to eat. That’s lovely, but it’s rather about the small things that often don’t get a lot of attention.

Bruce: The six prompts – I don’t want you to go through all of them – but just, broadly, how do you define what your prompts are going to be when it comes to the greater sense of mindfulness.

Debbie: The six prompts are defined in the book, they are there to actually just help you stop and notice a bunch of things that are already happening in your day. They are there are thoughts, actions and a way of being for example Greet Warmly – do we actually stop, get off our phones, look a person in the eye and maybe smile? Not all that often for some people and the incredible exchange of connection that actually happens is quite remarkable.

Bruce: Post-2012, when you had your gradual epiphany, how has it changed the way you function and the environment in which you function?

Debbie: I’m actually going to speak about the environment because InTheFlow is actually for oneself but I have actually used it in my team and the great thing, if you can actually get it to work in a team as it is actually self-explanatory in the book, is that it really helps people to connect and share a little bit about themselves in a really easy way. Which breathes compassion and empathy and trust, which can really transform a work culture. How it’s helped me is that, where I am now four years later, is in a very different phase of my life. Of course I have all the schlep and the hassle and drama of everyday stuff, but I am so much more able to just stop and take notice of all the great stuff that’s happening simultaneously that, in the past, would probably have not featured for me.

Bruce: I think it’s important. Also how do you spread the word of something like mindfulness which can feel a little Oprah-ish… without sounding like a rabid ex-smoker or an MBA graduate or somebody with something to sell?

Debbie: You read the book and you know it’s written in really plain, simple English, there is no MBA speak.

Bruce: I’m talking about an attitude, because you are becoming an evangelist for mindfulness. If you go to a party and tell people “oh I’m into mindfulness” do people roll their eyes a bit?

Debbie: I’m not sure – I think these days I think it’s actually part of common discourse, I think the idea that people who meditate or take some time to be a bit silent in their day, that they might be odd or tree hugging might be an era passed. I think there is enough data, research and scientific information to actually talk about the personal as well as the commercial benefits in work environments for it not to be such a weird thing.

Bruce: Is InTheFlow a letter to your younger self?

Debbie: I definitely do feel that I have matured somewhat and, yes, I think it’s a letter to my younger frenetic, all over the show self, and do still get like that sometimes but I am so much more skilled in being able to just stop and smell the roses, which is a really great way to live life.

Bruce: How different would your business journey have been and this book been written for you twenty years ago?

Debbie: I think one meets things like this at the time when you’re ready, which may sound a little Buddhist, but I think people are ready to listen at the time when they most need to hear the message. I am a evangelistic about it; I think it’s worked for me and my team environment and I also know how resistant I was even to the idea of meditating. And by the way, InTheFlow is not pure mindfulness; it’s about how to adapt those principles and adapt them in your ordinary life when you’re not meditating. There’s no breathing exercising or meditating; this is about how to take some of those ideas and use them. I know how challenging it was for me to even think about that as I thought I was completely fine and functioning perfectly. It was only when I did a little self-exploration that I realized actually that there was a lot that was broken and I didn’t even know what it was to start out with.

Bruce: In an environment as hectic as yours is, you have demanding clients who need well-qualified people, the well-qualified people who are perfectly happy in their jobs, and you’re going to them and saying you have a new opportunity for them and, this year, in many cases for highly-skilled individuals, the ones you deal with, it’s been a hectic year in a hectic country in a hectic global environment…it’s quite hard to practise what you preach.

Debbie: I think that this book and these ideas around mindfulness or adaptive version of it are coming at a perfect time and I think it’s actually the perfect Christmas gift, as we’re living these insanely hectic lives and a lot of us are kind of miserable and stressed out and not feeling very well at all and we’re not doing things that support our wellness and thriving as human beings and something’s got to shift and change and that has to be us.

Bruce: But then we can’t control the environment, we can’t control the way our colleagues, clients and bosses behave but you can control how you cope with that environment.

Debbie: I think even the word control is a problematic word in a world where everything’s just spinning out there. A lot of ideas around mindfulness are that it just helps you to accept what’s going on to look at it and be okay with it and instead of running away and dimming our senses and numbing/distracting ourselves constantly to get away from what’s actually going on, it’s a way just to stop and see it and that in itself is the wonderful shift that you need just to move on.

Bruce: It helps you navigate and not control if that is acceptable, it’s not full of flighty ideas it really is very practical, not Oprah-ish at all. A lot of high powered people including Ian Mann our business book review guy have given it the thumbs up; Shirley Zinn has also given it a thumbs up. Debbie Goodman Bhyat InTheFlow, tonight’s book.